The 12 apostles were called and ordained by Jesus to form the foundation upon which he built his Church. Speaking to newly baptized members of the ancient Church of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul explained that they were “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner.” (see Ephesians 2:19-20).
Significantly, the chief cornerstone (Jesus Christ) is the most essential element of the foundation (12 apostles). The chief cornerstone holds the foundation together. If the Church of Jesus Christ needed a foundation of 12 apostles anciently, the true Church of Jesus Christ most certainly needs that same foundation today.
Imagine that you were planning to build a home. Where would you begin? With the roof or walls? No, you would begin with the foundation, the most important part of the house, the part upon which the structure is built. That is exactly what Jesus did when he established his church upon the earth: He called the12 apostles to form the foundation.
Like the foundation of a home, the sure foundation of the 12 apostles and prophets, anchors the Church of Jesus Christ so that it can stand firm and steadfast against the storms of falsehood and adversity.
Jesus Chose the 12 Apostles as the Foundation of His Church
Wherever Jesus went, multitudes of people flocked to him to be healed and to hear his new and profound teachings. We read:
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36-37).
It was then that he noted, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few” Matthew 9:38). In other words, Jesus said that he needed more helpers to expand his work by healing and teaching the harvest of souls. His solution became one of the most unique characteristics of Christianity: He chose the 12 apostles.
Significantly, Jesus chose the apostles from among his faithful and trusted followers, eyewitnesses who had accompanied him from the beginning of his ministry (Acts 1:21). Jesus did not choose the apostles casually. Rather, he “went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13).
Jesus reminded the 12 apostles, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). The ordination to which Jesus referred included a bestowal of his authority, or priesthood, upon them. Now, with divine permission, the 12 apostles could authoritatively do the works of Jesus Christ in his name.
What were these works?
Teaching the gospel, baptizing, leading the Church in Jesus absence, and standing of special witnesses of Jesus’ mission and eventual resurrection are a few things that come to mind. Moreover, the scriptural account states that at the time of the apostles’ ordination, Jesus “gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease” (Matthew 10:1).
Clearly, no man can do the work of Jesus Christ or perform such miracles unless he is chosen by revelation from God and duly authorized by ordination as were Jesus’ original apostles.
What is the Special Work of the 12 Apostles?
The word apostle means “One sent forth,” hearkening an apostle’s singular calling:
- To be a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world (see D&C 107:23).To testify to the nations of Jesus’ divinity and his bodily resurrection from the dead (see Acts 1:2).
- To open the door to countries so that all God’s children might hear the gospel of Jesus and accept baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ (see D&C 107:35; Mark 16:15).
- To lead and build up The Church of Jesus Christ, and to regulate all the affairs of the Church in all nations (see D&C 107:33).
The Apostle Paul explained that Jesus chose and ordained the 12 apostles to lead The Church of Jesus Christ “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the [Church] of Christ.” Without the 12 apostles, the members of the Church could never realize “unity of the faith, and…the knowledge of the Son of God.” Rather, they be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight [deceit] of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby [wicked men] lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
One need only observe the many factions of Christianity that are not led by divinely chosen and ordained apostles to realize the truth of Paul’s statement and warning.
The 12 Apostles were Martyred and the Church of Jesus Christ was Lost
The Apostle Paul spoke prophetically. Within years, wicked men murdered the apostles, altered the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ, and led the members of the Church astray.
With the death of the 12 apostles, the authority of Jesus to lead the Church and perform valid baptisms were lost. Thereafter, Jesus’ teachings were debated and changed for decades. Finally, the competitors were summoned to Rome by the emperor Constantine, and a political council, which did not include apostles, drafted a list of man-made doctrines that would define Christianity for centuries.
Like a house will collapse when its foundation is destroyed, the original Church of Jesus Christ fell when the 12 apostles were martyred. No longer could the structure of Christianity withstand the storms of falsehood and adversity or claim the actual authority of Jesus Christ to perform essential saving ordinances, such as baptism.
Over time, reform movements attempted to restore Christianity to its roots, but none claimed to have apostles to do so. The result was thousands of offshoots of Christianity that interpreted Jesus’ teachings in different ways; but without the foundation of apostles and prophets, none of these churches were built as or resembled Jesus’ original church.
The Absolute Necessity of the 12 Apostles
There can be no doubt that the true Church of Jesus Christ will be identified by and built upon the foundation of the 12 apostles and prophets. The apostle Paul stated emphatically, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets…” (1 Corinthians 12:28).
After Jesus’ resurrection and before he ascended into heaven, he laid the responsibility of his Church upon the shoulders of the apostles. One of last directives to the apostles was this: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The 12 Apostles Today
Because Jesus Christ was perfect, what he did was perfect, and no one has the right to change or modify what he did—neither his teachings, doctrines, the ordinances he established nor the structure of his Church. If Jesus set the 12 apostles and prophets to form the perfect foundation of his Church anciently, the 12 apostles and prophets must form the foundation today.
The ancient apostles predicted both the falling away of the original Church of Jesus Christ and the latter-day re-establishment of Jesus’ true Church. The Apostle Paul prophesied, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first…” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
And on another occasion: “…in the last days perilous times shall come.” Among the abundant wickedness, Paul specifies that people in the last days, will have “a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof.” That is, many religious teachers in the last days will profess belief in Jesus Christ and his teachings, but lack authority and deny that such authority is necessary to perform baptisms and other saving ordinances. The Apostle Paul warned, “from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:1,5).
But the Apostle Peter prophesied the good news, which all the holy prophets had similarly prophesied. In the last days, the true Church of Jesus Christ would be re-established on the earth, and Jesus Christ himself would return to bring back his Church: “And [the Father] shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20-21).
In June of 1829, Peter, James and John, three of Jesus’ ancient apostles, appeared as angels to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his associate, Oliver Cowdrey, and conferred upon them the authority of Jesus Christ, the same authority that they had received from Jesus when they lived on the earth. One of the names of this authority is the Melchizedek Priesthood. Now Joseph Smith had the authority of the apostles, and as both an apostle and a prophet, he could re-establish The Church of Jesus Christ under the direction of Jesus Christ, whose church it is.
Today, as in ancient times, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has 12 apostles, who form the foundation of the Church. The 12 apostles lead the Church and are Special Witnesses of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. The modern-day 12 apostles have the same calling and power as did Peter, James, John, Paul, and the other apostles of the ancient Church of Jesus Christ.
The 12 apostles lead the Church in two governing bodies:
- The First Presidency, consisting of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his two counselors (such as Peter, James and John);
- The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The senior apostle, meaning the apostle who has served as an apostle for the longest period of time, is sustained by the membership of the Church as the Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ. He is the only person on earth who receives revelation from Jesus Christ to guide the Lord’s Church.
The Importance of the 12 Apostles
Since the days of Jesus, the apostles have been and are Jesus’ authorized servants, who testify of the reality, mission, divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and who teach the gospel and baptize throughout the world. Moreover, the apostles reveal God’s will for his children, and teach God’s character, attributes and perfections. The apostles are authorized to denounce sin and forewarn against sin’s consequences, and apostles prophesy concerning future events for our benefit.
The counsel of the living apostles is literally the counsel from Jesus Christ: The Lord has declared: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
The 12 Apostles—Our Greatest Safety
Our greatest safety is, and always has been, to strictly follow the word of Jesus Christ through his servants, the apostles. Jesus warns those who do not heed the words of the apostles that they will fall:
…and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people (D&C 1:14).
Today, apostles and prophets form the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here are their names and positions in the Church:
First Presidency —
Thomas S. Monson, prophet, seer, revelator and president
Henry B. Eyring, 1st Counselor
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 2nd Counselor
Quorum of the 12 Apostles —
Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of 12 Apostles
L. Tom Perry
Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
M. Russell Ballard
Richard G. Scott
Robert D. Hales
Jeffrey R. Holland
David A. Bednar
Quentin L. Cook
D. Todd Christofferson
Neil L. Andersen
More about the 12 Apostles
“The 12 Apostles” was written by Larry Barkdull. The subject of the 12 Apostles is of vital importance to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you would like to know more about Mormons with no obligation, please click on the following links:
If you have other questions about Mormons, click below on Mormon Beliefs or Mormon FAQ.